More facepalm from Eoin!

The graph above shows the productivity of coal since 1980. It is measured by calculating the output of each worker in thousands of pounds. In the 1980s, it was much more labour intensive than it is today and each worker produced just £10,000 worth of coal a year. But today, especially with modern excavation techniques, the productivity of coal has increased fivefold. The modern miner produces £50,000 worth of coal per year. On the basis of this evidence, the financial viability of re-opening the coal pits has dramatically improved. With 17,000,000,000 tonnes of clean coal under our feet waiting to be dug, there has never been a better time to invest in Clean Coal Technology and Carbon Capture Storage. It\’s time to reopen the pits.

Err, no.

We closed the deep mines because the labour used in them was unproductive. What is left of the UK coal mining industry is (mostly) open cast mining. Which has a much higher productivity of labour. That\’s why the productivity of labour has risen over the decades.

If we decided that now we\’ve got high labour productivity open cast mines therefore we should reopen the low labour productivity deep mines then labour productivity in coal mining would simply fall again, wouldn\’t it?


12 thoughts on “More facepalm from Eoin!”

  1. Two other things:

    1) the miner’s pay has probably increased a bit since the 1980s, although we could always try offering them 1980s pay levels.

    2) if the increase in productivity is partly due, as he claims, to “modern mining techniques”, then the capital needed is likely to have increased as well.

  2. “…clean coal under our feet” is odd, too. “Clean coal” is a kind of meme the coal folk are pushing. But it has more to do with how you burn it that what the coal is (OK, so ours is better than lignite, but it still has junk in it). As for CCS: that isn’t economic, as recent events you reported on demonstrate clearly. Not to mention that it is bleedin’ obvious anyway even without demonstration.

  3. “each worker produced just £10,000 worth of coal a year. ”

    Flippin hell. That’s a low wage rate for dangerous, dirty, hard physical labour in dingy, cramped conditions.

    I mean, seriously: is that right?

  4. Pedant-General, I assume Dr Clarke is using nominal pounds rather than current pounds (something of a habit of his).

    Only figures I could find were that in 1980 the average wage was under £6,000, and the minimum wage for agricultural labourers (also hard, physical and fairly dangerous labour) was £3,000 per year in 1980.

    So £10,000 doesn’t sound too bad.

  5. That’s a low wage rate for…

    The NCB was a charity run for the Aristocrats of Labour. Bloody madness, it was.

  6. Thanks James, I like that!

    “The City can no longer be tolerated as a State within a State governing above and beyond the authority of Parliament.”

    erm – it isn’t. It’s just as subject to Acts of Parliament as the rest of England.

    “The City … has more power than the Scottish parliament”

    erm – no it doesn’t. The Scottish Parliament has broad devolved powers over health, justice, education policy, some powers over income tax, and all sorts of other things. The City Corporation’s legal powers are basically those of a local authority and a local police authority.

  7. Why not express productivity in terms of tonnes per man which is directly comparable? There is, for example, a significant difference between the price of thermal and coking coal.

    Twentymile mine in the USA (the world’s most productive mine) produces about 27000t of thermal coal for each of its 320 employees (including staff). Thermal coal is currently over US$120 per tonne.

    You could produce 50000 quids worth of coal per year with a pick axe and a wheelbarrow.

  8. One other aspect to this is that more coal has come onstream from cheaper sources.

    Primarily from Australia (which is massively automated), but also from Venezuela and the Phillipines.

    Trade barriers which previously kept this coal out of the UK have been brought down (some of it going back to Maggie versus Arthur in 1984), however also GATT related changes.

    European deep coal is no longer able to compete with foreign imports, which is why places like the UK has massively reduced the amount being dug out of the ground by closing pits.

    In Germany, the 6-remaining deep coal mines that are still being worked will shut down in 2018 when the BAFA subsidies are removed.

    This will effectively end coal mining in Germany as all of the coal is very deep, but tends to be good quality.

    Difficult to compete when German costs have to be subsidized by about €60 – €80 per tonne, whereas the cheap imports are being dug out of the ground for €8 – €12 per tonne.

    It all comes down to relative labour costs in a traditionally labour intensive industry. The only reason the Ausies win is because they have such high levels of automation and they shift massive volumes of coal out of Newcastle (Australia).

  9. The UK should have a balanced energy generation portfolio, except for those useless inefficient wind turbines which blight our landscape. There are broader arguements than just cost alone, for example energy security is one.

    As with gas exploration and “Fracking” mining technology has come along way and it would be far more viable today than 20 or 30 years ago. I’ve also seen far higher estimates that 17 Billion of reserves but the “official” figure was lowered to make it look better when Maggie was shutting down the mines.

    I would also point out that “green” Germany has announced that gas and coal will be part of their energy strategy for the future.

  10. Please define “massively automated”, John Galt.

    Newcastle has the highest throughput in Australia and ships the overwhelming majority of NSW coal as the major of only two terminals. Up here in Queensland we like to share the love around a bit, but our total exports crap all over NSW.

  11. When I lived in Queensland there were fields where you scraped off a few feet of soil and bingo, there was coal. You then scraped off the steam coal and paid some of it over to the state government as royalties, and then you took out the lovely coking coal which is where the profit then was. These places were superquarries. Mind you, that account is second-hand; I never visited one. I did visit a brown coal quarry in South Australia, though: huge, magnificent and awfully impressive even though the coal was “low quality”.

    The notion that British pits could compete with such places is just laughable. Unless we turn green and insist that coal be shipped in windjammers.

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